Anyone who is passionate about their business can pinpoint a certain aspect of their working lives that makes it so special.
For Clare-Jane Kennaugh, it is the moment when a client opens the box she has just delivered to them and, from the layers of tissue paper, takes out her new hat.
‘I just love seeing their faces when they open the lid and they see what’s been created, just for them, inside. I quite often get tears, but they’re good tears! And I always get hugs - it’s just priceless,’ she says.
This is the time of year when women, even those who never normally wear anything more than a woolly number when it’s cold, are most likely to be looking for a ‘posh hat’. Whether it’s for a wedding or Royal Ascot, something special in the millinery department is called for.
Very often, the hat will be required to match a particular outfit that has already been purchased and that’s not always easy. The solution then is to have a bespoke hat made to your exact colour and style requirements. And that is where Clare-Jane comes in.
She started her business, Clare Jane Bespoke Hats, in 2019, but her association with hats and jewellery began many years earlier.
She says: ‘I’ve always loved art and designing and my mum was very artistic as well, I always created things. When I lived across, in Lancashire, I used to teach night classes in jewellery design and jewellery making: I did that for 10 years. I also did out of school art clubs for children
‘I worked in a bridal shop and I used to make all the accessories: the tiaras, jewellery and everything.
‘Then somebody came in one day and said: “Do you think you could do me a fascinator?”, and the love started there: I became addicted and just started creating them and learning more skills, doing online courses and classes, and my designs got bigger, more elaborate and more detailed as time progressed.’
Clare-Jane came to the island in 2012 and now lives in Port Erin with her wife, Louise, and her two younger daughters.
‘I had a slight career change when I moved here because it wasn’t as easy to establish my business at first and I went into working in health and social care,’ she says, and she goes on: ‘Then I decided it was time to get out there and say: “Here I am”.
‘So I did the Micro Business Enterprise Scheme in 2019 which was absolutely fantastic. I would highly recommend it to anybody thinking of setting up a business: the support that you get, the mentorship and everything is just fantastic. I’m still in touch with mentors, still in touch with Enterprise: it’s such a good thing that’s on offer on the island.’
Her business has grown from there and she has done hats for weddings, hats for Ascot, even hats to wear to Buckingham Palace. She also makes corsages to match prom dresses and her bridal range includes millinery for guests and mother of the bride, coordinating handbags, buttonholes, bespoke bridal garters, jewellery, tiaras and hair accessories.
The process of designing and making a bespoke hat begins with a free, no obligation consultation.
Clare-Jane says: ‘I go out to their home and I take my kitbag full of goodies with me.
‘When you visit somebody in their own home you get a lot of their personality: they’re more relaxed and you get a good idea of what they would feel comfortable wearing and I think that’s a big part of it. So many clients say to me that they feel like the hat has really represented them and their personality as well as their actual outfit.’
The contents of Clare-Jane’s ‘kitbag full of goodies’ includes a seemingly endless choice of colours and shades; a range of Swarovski crystals to add a bit of sparkle and feathers in an array of different colours.
Clare-Jane says: ‘If you’re going to have something bespoke made for you then you just want that perfect finishing touch.
‘I try and cover every colour that’s out there.’
She means it: she once even ombre-dyed individual feathers in two different shades, to make a hat match.
Formal hats also come in a surprisingly wide range of shapes and sizes from fascinators and pill box styles to a traditional wide brim and everything in between.
If you have no idea which shape will suit you, Clare-Jane has the answer in the form of a collection of different hat, hatinator and fascinator shapes for clients to try on.
‘Sometimes I see an outfit and I just know straightaway. I do a quick sketch and say: “I think something like this would be perfect”, and thankfully everybody always seems to give me the green light and we go with that and I will email them an estimate and then give them time to think about it: I don’t go for the hard sell.’
One day, she hopes to have her own shop in which to sell her creations. She says: ‘I have so many ideas. I’d like to get the ready to wear collection up and running and I’ve also contemplated maybe a hat hire.
‘I’ve always dreamed of a shop surrounded by hats: that would just be heaven, with a little craft room at the back where I could be busy making away.’
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